Susan Sontag

In our century we play fast and loose with the definition of a photograph. Many of the images we call photographs today are really chimera, fusions of photographs and liberally applied artistic renderings.

Sontag’s genius was that, in 1977, in an era without Photoshop, she could see the special nature of a photograph and how, through the scientific, objective capture of light, it is intimately involved with the real.

Photo by Peter Hujar First published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux., Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons (Susan Sontag in1966)

“… first of all a photograph is not only an image (as a painting is an image), an interpretation of the real, it is also a trace, something directly stenciled off the real, like a footprint or a death mask.”

Susan Sontag (1977) The Image-World, On Photography, Penguin, p154


Lunar eclipse 26 May 2021


All photos in video by Sabrina Caldwell and are licensed under CC-BY-NC-SA 2.0

Photos are changed only via scaling and cropping to match the moon size from photo to photo.



The Case of the “Osprey with Red-winged Blackbird Hitching a Ride”

There is a photo going viral at the moment: a Red-winged Blackbird being towed on a branch by an Osprey.

Osprey with Red-winged Blackbird Hitching a Ride ?

One of the Facebook posts where I saw this image had 887 comments [2], almost all of which were from believers. They thought the photo was lucky, awesome, insightful of nature. They thought the photographer was fortunate to be in the right place at the right time, and an amazingly patient nature photographer to have gotten such a photo.

“How amazing and what is more thrilling to be there with a camera to capture this photo” P. Slatyer

“It would have looked even more amazing if a dog was hanging on to the stick too!” L. Friel

“Probably the safest place to be” I. Jonssen

“…a million dollar photo as far as I’m concerned. And possibly the only one of its kind in existence…” S. Brown

“The blackbird is enjoying his private jet.” S. Atkins

“This is one for the record books. Fabulous shot.” E. Roberts

“Osprey is probably building up its nest. Black had best take off before it gets there.” J. Owens

However, this is an interesting case of the misleading element of the photograph being the words accompanying it.

If you look carefully at the bird’s talons, it appears to be holding the branch very lightly, with only a few of its talons. An Osprey is a powerful bird, able to carry fish up to 2 kilos or the occasional rabbit. In theory, an Osprey could carry the branch and the bird. But if the smaller bird was actually resting its weight on that upper twig, the branch would have revolved so that the bird was lower than the photo seems to indicate. The only way the bird could be sitting on an upper twig of the branch would be if the osprey was holding the branch VERY tightly. Which it isn’t.

Grip tight enough for a branch, but not a branch and a bird

Let’s look at the blackbird. It is a Red-winged blackbird (male since the females are brown). If you zoom in you’ll see that the blackbird isn’t clutching the branch at all, in fact the sun is shining on the part of the branch that would be under the bird were it ‘hitchhiking’.

Red-winged Blackbird in flight

The creator, Jocelyn Anderson Photography, cleverly words the description to infer, not state that the blackbird is getting a free ride on the branch: “A Red-winged Blackbird looking like it’s getting a free ride on an Osprey’s stick. The Blackbird was focused on driving the Osprey away from the marsh, while the Osprey was focused on bringing back a good stick for the nest.” [1]

However, the title of the photograph is so misleading as to cause the photo to reach the state of ‘fake’.

The appearance that the blackbird was riding the stick is just a fortuitous juxtaposition of the two birds and the stick. It is an interesting, even amazing photograph. Just not what it purports to be. Sorry.


[1] Accessed 20 May 2021

[2] The Fabulous Weird Trotter Accessed 20 May – 8 July 2021.

Images used in accordance with fair use provisions of copyright law.


Physarum and Harlequin nymphs

Yesterday I noticed a scattering of tiny red bugs skittering around amongst dead and shriveled leaves on a piece of painted wood in our backyard. Irresistible to a woman with a macro lens.

After a bit of investigation I determined that they were newly hatched nymphal stage Harlequin bugs. Great for my camera but not so good for my tomatoes. Be that as it may I spent many happy moments attempting to capture good macro photos of them – not easy when they were disinclined to sit still. Here are a couple of the best along with an adult that seemed to be chaperoning them:

As I watched their antics, I noticed that many of the dead leaves scattered abot were delicately outlined with miniscule white dots. Several photos and some online research later, and I discovered that they were the fruiting bodies of a type of slime mold, probably physarum, possibly physarum alba. Sounds icky but the fragile structures resembled microscopic mushrooms.

I discovered a wonderful site online in the process, Marin_mushrooms, an Instagram site of an extraordinary photographer dedicated to creating magnificent stacked focus macro and super macro photos of these diminutive fungi and molds. I highly recommend a visit to her site at

In addition to being fragile, the Physarum I photographed with my more modest equipment and patience were quite short-lived: most had cracked open and started to wither by today.


All photographs taken by Sabrina Caldwell and licenced under Creative Commons CC-BY-NC-SA 2.0. Photo editing limited to cropping only.


Penumbral ‘Beaver Moon’

Simply the full moon? I think not. Tonight the full moon was eclipsed by the Earth’s penumbral (outer) shadow. While the shadow is slight, it is enough to create a lovely antique patina over the surface and highlight the Moon’s features.

In Native American tradition this full moon is known as the ‘Beaver Moon’ because it is the last full moon before the winter arrives, and by this time beavers have completed their dams and settled in.


Penumbral moon 30 November Canberra, Australia 8:51pm
No manipulations made to photo other than cropping
Sabrina Caldwell CC-BY-NC-ND-SA

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Posted by on November 30, 2020 in Astronomy


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